We're just over a week away from this year's SCAA Trade Show and Convention in Seattle, Washington, so I thought I'd cobble together a few thoughts about the upcoming conference for the CoffeeGeek community in order to get a sense of what to expect at the show, and maybe what we even hope for, as consumers and as coffee lovers.
I've attended three of these shows now, and it's always an amazing time overall. There's nothing quite like being in the midst of thousands of other coffee lovers, all schmoozing over coffee and espresso. It's simply a brilliant time if you're a coffee lover. This article is laced with my (very biased) opinion about the show, but keep in mind this is meant to be a no-holds barred preview - take everything and anything I write with a grain of salt. Make the conference your special time as a coffee lover, should you choose to attend.
Let's get some details out of the way.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America's annual conference and trade show is the largest coffee-related annual trade show on the planet these days. This year's event in Seattle on April 15 to 18th features close to 700 exhibitor booths covering every aspect of coffee from instants to high end designer commercial espresso machines. There's a lot of tea as well.
But the show isn't just about the trade show floor. There's also approximately 500 hours of seminars, intensive courses, lectures, discussion groups and panels going on, covering all aspects of education.
A primer on costs
| The Costs |
Teh costs columns on the SCAA booklet can be a bit scary for those on a budget.
There are a few catches when attending the SCAA show: it's not a cheap event to attend by any stretch, and if anything, each year the costs go up a lot.
If you're a professional in the biz and a member of the SCAA, it will cost you either $335 (earlybird) or $435 (current rate, after March 15) to get access to the show, including the trade show floor, and a limited number of "free" seminars. If you aren't a member of the SCAA, access costs $535 after March 15th. That's a big bite.
The good news for consumers is this. If you're a registered (and paid for) cMember (pdf file), for either the $18 or $45 yearly membership, access to the trade show floor and cMember events is only $60 for the entire show, which, compared to what the pros have to pay, is not too shabby a price. You can also sign up as a cMember at the show, and get the reduced rate to access the floor and the cMember events.
The catches continue, so I better get them out of the way right now... paying that $435 up to $535 as a business member gets you into the conference, and access to many of the educational sessions (the SCAA Trade Show handbook has details on this), but most of the skill building workshops, the Friday intensives, and the variety of ticketed events cost dough - a lot of it. Friday intensives can cost up to $325, with Track One (Friday) or Track Two (Saturday) intensives adding another (up to) $375 per day. On top of that, Saturday workshops can cost up to $95 each, though a full day pass can be purchased: $225 for members, and $325 for non members.
In short, attending the SCAA show ain't cheap. It's a big money maker for the SCAA, funding it's other schtuff throughout the year, and really the only way the SCAA does make any money, so they gotta charge what they gotta charge, I guess. That said, it's not unheard of, for a typical SCAA member to spend upwards of $750 or more just for SCAA attendance and workshop fees. But you gotta spend money to make money... ;)
There are lots of grumbles every year about the costs by your average joe-member. However, there are ways to cut these costs. Some can stilly apply to this year's conference, and some, you can apply to next year's show in Charlotte:
- Book early, and book the package deals. By booking early, you can save as much as $100 or more off the conference fees (early bird date is usually mid March). Instead of booking one or two events, find packages and coordinate your educational days using the SCAA's conference guide. This can save a ton of money.
- Volunteer. Seriously. If you have expertise in anything coffee related, volunteer your services. The entire show runs on the efforts of volunteers (almost no one giving lectures or classes gets paid), and in return for these efforts, the SCAA uses a sliding scale (time = discount) to cut down the cost of your entrance fees. You can volunteer as a speaker, as a helper, as a coordinator, or as a trainer. There are literally hundreds of volunteer positions available. Contact the SCAA direct if you're interested in this and getting more details. And yes, even as a cMember, you can volunteer for a wide variety of things. Get involved, and save some dough off the costs.
- Research your hotel well. The SCAA has a block of hotel rooms right near conference, but these are never the cheapest rates to be had in the city hosting conference. Look at hotel chains' own websites, or book through Expedia or Hotels.com. Also consider staying a bit further away from the convention hall, but on a main transit route. To use Seattle as an example, hotels near the Space Needle, for e.g., are a free 10 minute elevated train ride away from the conference centre, but can cost as much as $75 or more less per night as compared to hotels right next to conference. Over a three to five night stay, this is substantial savings, and can equal your entire dining budget during the show.
A show for consumers?
| cMember Track |
There are many events for consumers this year at the show.
Well, sort of ;). The consumer events this year are toned down quite a bit from last year's event in Atlanta. The reason was cost and poor attendance, as well as some poor feedback from presenters about the attending crowds. No biggie in my book, but it had a negative impact.
The poor attendance is mainly the fault of the SCAA itself - the events were not heavily publicized outside of a small geek community (and not even on CoffeeGeek! Long story!), and while the numbers hoped for were much higher than reality, the other reality is that you gotta spend money to make money. ;)
Okay, enough negativity about that. Well, maybe a bit more (see below). This year's consumer events are titled cMember Connoisseur Events. After reading over the listings, some I'm really jazzed about, and some... well, some I'm like "is this what we want to show to consumers interested in high end coffee?" But I digress. Here's a listing.
- Descriptive Cupping: Tasting Terminology
Saturday, April 16 9:00 AM - 10:15 AM
Presenters: Paul Songer
Description: Specialty coffee comes in a wide variety of flavours, which are the result of all the stages of production, from the climate in which the coffee was grown to the roast degree. This class focuses on the how coffee flavours are described and how to interpret one's own flavour experience and preferences.
- Coffee and Philanthropy: How Your Cup Heals Those in Need
Saturday, April 16 10:45 AM - 12:00 PM
Presenters: Karen Gordon, Bill Fishbean, Rick Peyser
Description: Philanthropy is an important part of specialty coffee - a mission in which consumers can share. Attendees will hear presentations from non-profit groups working every day to transform the lives for people at origin.
- In the Beginning: The Early Days of Espresso in Seattle
Saturday, April 16 1:30 PM - 2:45 PM
Presenters: William "Fergy" Ferguson, Mauro Cipolla
Description: Specialty coffee and the coffeehouses that are now the most visible aspect of our industry have a long and somewhat storied history in Seattle. Before the “coffee boom” of the early 1990’s, several coffee retailers dedicated to excellence paved the way. (ed.note: no offense to these presenters, but there's someone seriously missing from this list of presenters: Kent Bakke, pretty much one of the "founding fathers" of espresso in Seattle)
- The Birthplace of Coffee: The Art of the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
Sunday, April 17 9:00 AM - 10:15 AM
Presenters: Willem Boot, Tadesse Meskela
Description: The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony is one of the most distinctive traditions that still exists in the world of coffee today. Join Tadesse Meskela and an Ethiopian coffee farmer in experiencing coffee’s most ancient custom as a way to appreciate the uniqueness of Ethiopia - its culture and its coffee.
- Coffee Tasting with Ken Davids
Sunday, April 17 10:45 AM - 12:00 PM
Presenters: Kenneth Davids
Description: Writer and cupper Kenneth Davids will lead attendees through an understanding of the various ways coffee processing - fruit removal and drying - influence and contribute to the flavour of coffee. Particular emphasis will be given to newer developments like pulped naturals: coffees dried with the skin removed but the fruit flesh still adhering to the bean.
- Zen Coffee Meditation: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
Sunday, April 17 1:30 PM - 2:45 PM
Presenters: Rev. Frank Jude Boccio
Description: Rev. Frank Jude Boccio, a student of Zen master Samu Sunim, conducts a Zen Coffee Meditation. Together participants mindfully sip coffee with cookies, taking time to deeply appreciate how coffee can nourish us in the present moment. A mindful contemplation of our coffee helps heal and transform ourselves and the world, revealing our true nature, and clarifying our relations to others. Due to the nature of this event, participation is limited to 70 students.
- Guided Tour of Exhibit Hall Floor
Monday, April 18 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Room: Departs from Membership Booth
Presenters: Barry Jarrett
Description: An introduction to the specialty coffee world through a walking tour of the Exhibition Floor. Up close and personal visits with coffee origin producers, importers, roasters, and manufacturers of consumer brewers and espresso equipment. Learn about the products of the industry and be greeted by well-known specialty coffee personalities.
In addition, there is a Cocktail reception for cMembers on Sunday evening (details haven't been finalized yet though), which should be fun. And there's this event:
Pods: A New Future in Coffee & Tea Brewing at Home
Sunday, April 17 9:00 AM - 10:15 AM
Presenters: Aimee Markelz, Bunn Corporation, Vice-President - Retail Division
Linda P. Smithers, North American Marketing, Daterra Coffee; Founder, Susan’s Coffee & Tea
Description: Learn about the latest trends and advances in home brewing technology including the increasingly popular pod systems, and discover strategies for effective merchandising and in-store promotions. (This session is specifically targeted to retailers, however cMembers are allowed to attend.)
Okay. I know this article is critical at times, and I'm about to do it again. I say this also stating that I know Aimee Markelz and think she's a fantastic person who knows good coffee. I also know she works for a company that has invested a lot of time and money into a new proprietary brewing system, and she has a job to do. So do I:
Suck. Especially pods that designed for only specific types of machines. Pods are not the future of specialty coffee. They are a step back in terms of quality once again forsaken for convenience. And these specialized pods are the worst of the bunch. At least with ESE pods (the ones that work in most pod-capable espresso machines), you have choices, and if you work hard enough, you can find a source for genuinely high quality pods that are relatively fresh.
Proprietary pod systems on the other hand... the coffee's a big mystery, and I know from discussions with various people in the biz that the coffee used is often suspect and low grade. And the costs. Sigh. Cup costs as high as $1 or more, depending on how many pods you buy.
When I first heard the SCAA was planning a pod seminar at the show, I shuddered. Literally. Then I shook my head. I think we can do better to advance high end specialty coffee to consumers.
That said, the consumer track looks promising this year. There are no espresso or brewing labs like last year, but maybe next year in Charlotte, we'll see those again. In the meantime, my best bets are Ken Davids' seminar, descriptive cupping, and I'm betting Barry Jarrett's floor walk will be a blast.
The Show Floor
| Schedule of Events |
The events list, including all that happens on the show floor, is pretty packed.
Ahhh. Nirvana for the true coffee geek. But be prepared!
I'll tell you one thing you won't generally see at the SCAA show... booth babes. That is, in my opinion, a good thing. The show is serious stuff, and booth babes detract from it. What's weird is that there's always one or two guys who will hire a booth babe or two for the SCAA show, and these poor women look so out of place, so uncomfortable.
The SCAA Trade Show and Convention is a professional trade show for professionals. They're in the business of selling equipment, selling coffee, selling coffee doodads. It's always been this way, and only recently has there been a push to also allow consumers to have access to the show in a limited capacity. What does this mean to you?
The short and skinny of it all is this: if you're a consumer, don't expect every booth owner to be in love with you or be willing to talk to you for three hours about PIDding a Silvia.
Many booth operators, especially those with a consumer line of products are no doubt happy to share a few words with consumers dropping by, so don't be shy, but the key word to remember is be respectful of these people who have spent literally tens of thousands of dollars to be here at the show showing off their products. Why are they spending that money? To make sales.
In the past, "booth etiquette" at the show was sometimes a problem with consumers hovering around a popular display booth talking the ears off the company reps, to the expense of having potential clientele walking off in disgust over the wait.
I do not care much for booth operators who are downright rude or snide to consumers who just want to check out the wares, and unfortunately there are a few at the show every year like this. But as enlightened consumers attending the show, we can set the standard and show even these hard asses that not only do we have a lot to offer in terms being evangelists for their product lines, but show that we respect the true reason they are at the show.
You'll find booths of all sizes at the show this year. Many countries that grow coffee have their own national-pride booths with a good group of farmers and brokers present. Countries with their own booths include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Burundi, Rwanda, Brasil, Colombia, Nicaragua, India, Hawaii (okay, they are part of the US - three camps are represented - Kauai, Kona, and Hawaii), Ethiopia, Kenya and many others.
TransFair USA (Fair Trade) usually has a humongous booth with many Fair Trade participating growers present.
The larger equipment makers also tend to have huge booths. I remember one year when Faema, after having new representation in the US, had a massive booth complete with a tricked out Mini right in the middle of the display floor.
The roaster manufacturers (commercial) always get some pretty impressive displays, and are very much worth checking out.
This year in Seattle, there are several cafes with booths - first time for some of them too, even though these companies are relatively famous to CoffeeGeekers. Going over the list, I see Zoka, Cafe Vita, Intelligentsia, Espresso Vivace, and others - there's also the Barista Guild booth with a couple of tricked out machines this year, and some of the nation's best Baristi manning the machines.
Many machine manufacturers are there as well. Most are representing their commercial lineup, but you'll find consumer (domestic) machines at booths like Baratza, Rancilio, Saeco, Boyd's Coffee, Isomac, Nuova Simonelli, Burgess Enterprises, Bodum, La Spaziale, Iberital, Espresso Specialists NW, Elektra, Gaggia / Importika, and many more.
It pays to walk the floor a lot - there's always a few gems and unknowns, especially in the domestic machine market. Tricks and treats abound, from roaster surprises, to new innovations in grinders, and new technologies in espresso machines. Rumour has it at this year's show, one of the biggest names in commercial espresso will be announcing (and maybe even displaying) a foray into the world of consumer / prosumer machines. The initials LM come to mind.
The World Barista Championship
This is one of the premier events of the show - close to forty nations will be sending their best Baristi to Seattle to compete in the 2005 championship.
The event is held across the street from the Convention Centre at the Seattle Temporary Library location. This is the same place the USBC was held. The first rounds are held on Saturday and Sunday, from 10am to 5pm both days. The Finalists are announced on Sunday at 6pm.
The finals go on Monday, 10am to 12:30pm, with the winners announced at 1pm on the same day.
If you want to be truly blown away by some other-world Barista mad skillz, make sure you sit in on this event from time to time. The finals are a must-not miss event. We'll have a cadre of photographers covering the event, with the possibility of over 1000 photos taken (which the poor editor of this site will have to whittle down to 150 to 200 or so to display after the show).
Yeah baybee, the best part of the show, as far as I'm concerned - the social events. There's many to choose from, and many only cost you the showing of your show badge as admission. Here are some of my own personal favourites and highlights:
| WBC Party |
Last year's WBC Party was a blast, as will be this years, I'm sure! Can you spot Ken Davids in the photo?
The real party of note is the SCAA's Welcome Reception, following the keynote address. This year's keynote is by Jane Goodall, and is a must-attend - I can't wait to hear this amazing woman speak. The welcome reception afterwards is always great, and while not a formal affair, dress well (suit, or at least a tie if you're male) to attend. Everyone who's anyone in the coffee world usually makes this event. It happens from 7 to 10pm on the Friday, in the main ballroom. The Keynote goes from 5:30 to 7pm.
CoffeeKid's party and reception happens Saturday, 4:30pm to 6:30pm in Rooms 615-616. Bill Fishbean will be up speaking along with others, and it's always a feelgood event.
Barry Jarrett is throwing the now-annual "altie" (alt.coffee) party / dinner at the Summerfield Suites which is a half block north of the Convention Centre. I am not totally sure of the time yet, but I think it's roughly 7 to 9 or 10pm. There's hope it can take place in the Summerfield's breakfast room, but details are TBA.
I know Zoka Coffee Roasters is throwing a big Barista party Saturday night, but it's invitation only... however, invitees are allowed to bring guests, so if you want to go to this one, find someone already invited and latch along.
The best party of the night has got to be the Barista Guild of America party at Gameworks. Again, it's semi-invitation only, but I don't think a few seriously enthused consumer baristas crashing the party will be much of a problem. This one goes from 5:30 to 10pm, This is invitation only, but invitations can be picked up at Monin's booth, #1144. This event is sponsored by Monin, Ambex Roasters (go Terry Davis!), Espresso Specialists, Inc, Cafe D'Amore, and Fresh Cup
The SCAA's official Sunday Night event is a huge deal at EMP (Experience Music Project) - The big Jimmy Hendrix (kidding! not!) museum near the Space Needle. The bash goes from 9pm to Midnight, and costs $45 at the door to attend. Jovino Santos Neto, a renowned Latin pianist and composer is performing, along with Werbabuena, an outstanding Latin dance band from Seattle.
I also happen to think the announcement of the finalists in the WBC is a big deal - it happens at 6pm in the Temporary Library building across the street from the Convention Centre. Make sure you check it out!
The first social event of note during the day is the Closing Reception in the main lobbies, which starts as soon as the trade show floor closes, starting at 3:30, and going until 5pm. It's always a great event, and a chance to say your goodbyes until next year.
The WBC is hosting a party, called the World Barista Championship Party, held at the Palace Ballroom on the corner of 5th and Lenora (2100 5th Ave), starting at 6pm, going thru the night. It's not a public event - it's meant for competitors, judges and sponsors - but if you drop by, word is that you won't be booted out.
And the other event I'll definitely be at until the wee hours in the morning is the Roaster Guild Party, starting at 7pm. It's at Jillian's in Seattle, and is an event open to everyone. This is always one of the best parties of the show.